Short day at McMillan Marsh long on satisfaction

author’s note: this is the original version of a piece I shortened for use in the March 9 issue of the Portage County Gazette

Deer tracks across the marsh

“How long do you think they can run like that?”

The question was posed by my frequent hiking companion Chris Sadler, who for the first time was filling the role of cross-country skiing buddy.

We were watching eight deer streaking across a flat, icy expanse of McMillan Marsh Wildlife Area, about a hundred yards southeast from where we glided along a low dike, heading back to Chris’ car.

The dike road ran between the marsh on our right and the forest on our left, where the Little Eau Pleine River winds about on its way toward an affiliated reserve, the George Mead Wildlife Area, before ultimately draining into Lake DuBay more than 20 miles to our east.

It was a perfect winter day. The midday temperatures were hovering around 10 degrees with westerly and northwesterly winds hitting no more than 10 miles an hour – enough to chill our faces thoroughly but not bring any substantial discomfort.

Continue reading

Time to start asking questions about Rib Mountain proposal

Some potentially bad news confronted me last week, reminding me of what we should all do when that happens: ask lots of questions, and head for the mountains.

Or the mountain.  Because I’m writing literally, not metaphorically.

I am not talking about the possibly apocalyptic farce that is our so-called election or its aftermath.  I’m talking about Rib Mountain State Park, which apparently is still the target of ski-slope expansion plans.

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Who’s planning it?  Why?  Is it viable?  What will it do to our beloved state park?  On balance, will the costs be greater than the benefits? Who exactly will this benefit?

Most importantly – should we go hike more trails over there right now?  The answer to that is yes. Continue reading

Naked on the day it was burned

A few hours after Trump’s travel ban for Muslims started getting serious news attention (including nonstop CNN coverage), the naked guys were standing around the locker room at the YMCA, transfixed by what they saw on television.

It was the end of a Wisconsin Badgers basketball game, however, that enraptured them. Out in the fitness area, virtually everyone was ignoring several screens with live coverage of our constitution going down in flames, complete with stranded travelers and unjust detentions.

From what I could tell, life was simply moving forward for most exercisers. I didn’t see a single animated conversation, and certainly not one that appeared to focus on the travel ban.

Around that time, a friend of mine — a technology entrepeneur from one of our staunchest Pacific allies, in the U.S. to do business — said he was busy at an airport, spending a substantial amount of time “chatting up the CBP officer to make my case that I’m no criminal”  (CBP being Customs and Border Protection),

We’re all being faced with serious personal choices right now.  Ignore what’s going on around us?  Post a few outraged comments on social media? Join a march?  Boycott a business? Something more?

I’ve seen all sorts of things.  One friend told me yesterday, with a clear tinge of shame, that he’s just trying to keep his head down and do his job,  Several friends took part in the recent women’s marches.  One new acquaintance — a Facebook friend, really — is posting an endless series of anguished comments, multiple times daily.

Fixing this is going to need more, and it’s tough to know how to proceed.  Part of what I’ll do is write more, including on this blog, where I’d committed to focusing more on parks and the outdoors and less on the political side than I have in the past.

As we have seen, however, with the rebellion of National Park Service employees amid renewed political efforts to weaken science, sell off public lands, and silence dissent, there can be no avoiding politics.

I’ve posted nothing since mid-November for multiple reasons, all of which were stressful, but none more so than the thoroughly deflating and demoralizing election in which the worst elements of our national character changed the nature of our country.

It’s time to come back. I’ll still stick mostly to the outdoors, as I’ve got some projects in the works, including the continued production of my outdoors column.  But the ugly side of life in America cannot be ignored now.

Not everything in nature can be beautiful.  It often seems that little in politics is, but there are glimmers of hope here and there through the smoke of our principles being incinerated.

Many are resisting in ways large and small.  Doing so creatively and appropriately, forcefully and effectively, is the task we must all continue.

Got in a few jabs at politicians. Looks like it wasn’t enough.

We recently visited a park honoring one of the all-time great politicians in Gaylord Nelson, so it seemed only just to let the sorry excuses for legislators who have followed him have it once or twice or six times. Here’s a link to my Nov. 2 Portage County Gazette column, in which I take advantage of writing about our trip to Madison to make some allusions to the sad state of Wisconsin political affairs.

At the time of the trip, we were still almost two weeks from election day.  Little did I know that what we’ve seen in Wisconsin lately may just be a precursor of the next several years in the United States.

We did, however, get some great bakery items, so there’s that.

Introducing Les Rob Peeples


Les Rob Peeples asks: Parks — who needs ’em?

So I have a new buddy who wrote me a letter at the Gazette.  (And you can read the whole thing here, although the paywall is apparently coming soon.)

Lester Robert Peeples, who goes by Les Rob to his friends, seems a little too crazy to believe. Funny, though — a lot of folks who write letters are that way.  They come off as caricatures, but we’ve got a caricature running for president and a lot of people ready to vote that way, so we can probably forgive ourselves for being confused about the line between reality and bad dreams.

Les Rob appears to be even more reactionary and libertarian than some of our more pronounced public wackos.  He clearly needs to brush up on his geography and his college football.  Still, I’ve got a feeling he may surprise some people — assuming that he is real, or at least that we hear from him again.